Apocrypha, "Outside Books," and Pseudepigrapha:
Ancient Categories and Modern Perceptions of Parabiblical Literature

Annette Yoshiko Reed, Princeton University
40th Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins: Parabiblical Literature, October 10, 2002


1. Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.1 & Parallels

m. Sanhedrin 10.1

All Israel has a portion in the World to Come, for it is written: Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the Land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, so that I may be glorified (Isa 60:22). However, the following have no portion therein: he who maintains that resurrection cannot be proved from the Torah, [one who maintains that] the Torah was not divinely revealed, and an Epicurean. R. Akiba says: Also, one who reads in the "outside books." And one who whispers over a wound and says, I will bring none of these diseases upon you which I brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord who heals you (Ex 15:26). R. Abba Saul says: Also, one who pronounces the Name as it is spelled.

[Cf. t. Sanhedrin 12.10 =96 R. Akiba says: One who warbles the Song of Songs in a banquet-hall and makes it into a kind of love-song has no portion in the World to Come]

y. Sanhedrin 10.1

R. AQIBA SAID: ALSO ONE WHO READS "OUTSIDE BOOKS." Such as the books of ben Sira and the books of ben Laanah. But, as for the books of hamiram (usually translated as "Homer" and understood as denoting "secular" literature) and all the books that were written from that time onwards, one who reads them is like on who reads in a letter. What is the reason? And more than these, my son, take heed (Qoh 12:12; see below). These are permitted for recitation (or, reading lessons), not for serious study.

b. Sanhedrin 100b

R. AQIBA SAID: ALSO ONE WHO READS "OUTSIDE BOOKS," etc. A Tanna taught: The books of the minim. R. Joseph said: It is forbidden to read the book of Ben Sira. Abaye said to him: What is the reason? Shall we say because there is written therein, "Do not strip the skin [of a fish] even from its ear, lest thou spoil it, but roast it [all, the fish with the skin] in the fire, and eat therewith two [twisted] loaves"? Now, if [you object to it in] its literal sense, the Torah too states: You shall not destroy the trees thereof... But if you take exception to the passage: "A daughter is a vain treasure to her father: through anxiety on her account, he cannot sleep at night as a minor, lest she be seduced; in her majority, lest she play the harlot; as an adult, lest she be not married; if she marries, lest she bear no children; if she grows old, lest she engage in witchcraft!' — but the Rabbis have said the same: "The world cannot exist without males and females; happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females." Again if because of the following: 'Let not anxiety enter thy heart, for it has slain many a person!' — but Solomon said likewise: Anxiety in the heart of man makes it stoop... And if because it contains, 'Withhold the multitude from thy house, and bring not every one into thy house!' — but Rabbi said the same, for it has been taught, Rabbi said: One should never have a multitude of friends in his house, for it is written, A man that hath many friends brings evil upon himself...

R. Joseph said: We may expound to them the good things it contains. [A lengthy list of examples follows.]

2. Other Early References to the Status of the Books of Hamiram and ben Sira

m. Yadaim 4.6 The Sadducees say: We complain against you, Pharisees, because you say that the Holy Scriptures defile the hands, but the books of hamirim (=Homer?) do not defile the hands. R. Johanan b. Zakkai said: Have we nothing against the Pharisees except this? Behold they say that the bones of an ass are clean, yet the bones of Johanan the high priest are unclean. They said to him: Proportionate to the love for them, so is their uncleanness, so that nobody should make spoons out of the bones of his father or mother. He said to them: Thus the Holy Scriptures defile the hands, but the books of hamiram do not defile the hands.

t. Yadaim 2.13 The margins [in] the books of the minim (or, "the gospels [and] the books of the minim") do not defile the hands. The books of ben Sira and all the books which were written from that time and onwards do not defile the hands.

3. Qoh 12:11-12 in Rabbinic Discussions of Written Torah, "Outside Books," & Oral Torah

Qoh 12:11-12

The sayings of the wise are like goads. And, like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings which are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Numbers Rabbah 14.4

Remember the law of Moses my servant, and so on... Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, and so on (Mal. 3:22). And more than these, my son, take heed (Qoh 12:12a). The Holy One, blessed be He, says: "I have given you in writing 24 books. Be careful, and do not add to them." Why? Of making many books there is no end (Qoh 12:12b), and if one reads a verse that does not belong to the twenty-four books of the Bible, it is as though he had read "outside books." This explains the signification of the text, Take heed... of making many books (Qoh 12:12a-b), for whoever does this has no share in the World to Come. Thus it is written, there is no end (Qoh 12:12b), and "end" here has the same meaning as in the verse, But go your way until the end (Dan 12:13). Thus you are told what the punishment will be for he who adds a book. How can we infer that even if one studies them, he is wearied by them? Because Scripture states, And much study is a weariness of the flesh (Qoh 12:12c) — his flesh being unable to shake itself free from its dust. This accords with what we have learned: THE FOLLOWING HAVE NO SHARE IN THE WORLD TO COME... ONE WHO READS "OUTSIDE BOOKS" (m. Sanh 10.1).

Pesiqta Rabbati 3.9

In the verse, They are given from one shepherd (Qoh 12:11), "they" stands for both these and those, these [being the "masters" {see Qoh 12:11} mentioned in Torah] and those being the Scribes whose words must also be considered as given from the Unique One of the universe. And even more than these, my son, take heed (Qoh 12:12). What is implied by "even more than these"? That you are to be even more heedful of the words of the Scribes than of the words of the Torah. Why? Because if an attempt had been made to set down their words in writing there would have been no end to books: Of making books there would be no end (Qoh 12:12)...

Furthermore, said R. Berechiah the Priest, we have been reading the word masmerot ("nails"; Qoh 12:11), as though it were spelled with a samek. In truth, it is spelled mashmerot, and hence suggests the word mishmarot ("watches"); just as the watches of the priesthood are 24, so the books of the Torah are no more than 24, and whoever reads a book other than the 24 is considered as one who reads in the "outside books," of which the Torah has said: And of more than these, my son, take heed (Qoh 12:12).

Therefore, Rabbi concluded: Take heed of the words of the Sages even more than of the words of the Torah.

4. Selected Christian Discussions of "Apocryphal" Books

Irenaeus, AH 1.20.1 on the Marcosians

Besides the above [i.e., a long list of beliefs], they adduce an unspeakable number of secret (apokruph=F4n) and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged to bewilder the minds of foolish men and of those who are ignorant of the scriptures of truth. [What follows is a tale about Jesus as a child.]

Apostolic Constitutions 6.16

We have sent all these things to you, that you may know what our opinion is, and that you may not receive those books which obtain in our name, but are written by the ungodly. For you are not to attend to the names of the apostles, but to the nature of the things, and their settled opinions. For we know that Simon and Cleobius, and their followers, have compiled poisonous books under the name of Christ and of his disciples, and do carry them about in order to deceive yon who love Christ and us His servants. And among the ancients, also, some have written secret/apocryphal books of Moses, and Enoch, and Adam, and Isaiah, and David, and Elijah, and of the three patriarchs — pernicious and repugnant to the truth. The same things even now have the wicked heretics done, reproaching the creation, marriage, providence, the begetting of children, the Law and the Prophets; inscribing certain barbarous names, and, as they think, of angels, but, to speak the truth, of demons, which suggest things to them: whose doctrine eschew, that you may not be partakers of the punishment due to those that write such things for the seduction and perdition of the faithful and un-blameable disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Athanasius, Festal Letter 39 [trans. Brakke, from Greek and Coptic]

...But inasmuch as we have mentioned that the heretics are dead but we have the divine Scriptures for salvation, and we are afraid that — as Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:3) — a few of the simple folk might be led astray from sincerity and purity through human deceit and might then begin to read other books, the so-called apocrypha (tois legomenois apokruphois), deceived by their having the same names as genuine books, I exhort you to bear with me if, to remind you, I write about thing that you already know, on account of the Church's need and advantage.

As I begin to mention these things, in order to commend my undertaking, I will employ the example of Luke the evangelist and say myself: Inasmuch as certain people have attempted (Lk 1.1) to set in order for themselves the so-called apocryphal books and to mix these with the divinely inspired Scripture, about which we are convinced it is just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and assistants of the Word handed down to our ancestors, it seemed good to me, since I have been urged by genuine brothers and sisters and instructed from the beginning, to set forth in order the canonized and transmitted writings, those believed to be divine books, so that those who have been deceived might condemn the persons who led them astray and those who have remained pure might rejoice to be reminded... [What follows is a list of the books of the OT [22 books] and the first list to include all books now in NT.] These are the springs of salvation... In them alone is set forth the doctrine of piety. Let no one add to them, nor take anything from them (cf. Deut 12:32)....

But, for the sake of further accuracy, I add this, writing from necessity. There are other books, in addition to these, which have not been canonized, but have been appointed by the ancestors to be read to those who newly join us and want to be instructed in the word of piety: the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobit, the book called the Teaching of the Apostles and the Shepherd.

Nevertheless, the former books are canonized; the latter are [only] read. And there is no mention of the apocryphal books. Rather, [the notion of apocrypha, i.e., hidden or secret books] is an invention of the heretics, who write these books whenever they want and then grant and bestow upon them dates, so that, by publishing them as if they were ancient, they might have a pretext for deceiving the simple folk. Great is the hardheartedness of those who do this and do not fear the word that is written: You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it (Deut 12:32). Who has made the simple folk believe that those books belong to Enoch even though no scriptures excited before Moses? On what basis will they say there is an apocryphal book of Isaiah? He preaches openly on the high mountain and says: These words are not hidden or in a dark land (Isa 45:19). How could Moses have an apocryphal book? He is the one who published Deuteronomy with the heaven and the earth as witnesses (Deut 4:26; 30:19). No, this can be nothing except "itchy ears" (2 Tim 4:3)... For truly the apocryphal books are filled with myths, and it is a vain thing to pay attention to them, because their voices are empty and polluted. For they are the beginning of discord, and strife is the goal of people who do not seek what is beneficial for the Church, but who desire to receive compliments from those whom they lead astray, so that, by publishing new discourses, they will be considered great people.

Therefore it is fitting for us to decline such books. For even if a useful word is fount in them, it is still not good to trust them. For this is a work of the wickedness of those who have conceived of mixing one or two inspired texts so that, through such deception, they might somehow cover up the evil teachings that they have clearly created. Therefore, it is even more fitting for us to reject such books, and let us command ourselves not to proclaim anything in them nor to speak anything in them with those who want to be instructed, even if there is a good word in them, as I have said. For what do the spiritual Scriptures lack that we should seek after theses empty voices of unknown people?

Augustine, City of God

15.23 (following a discussion of the "sons of God" in Gen 6:1-4)

Let us omit, then, the fables of those scriptures which are called "apocryphal," because their obscure origin was unknown to the fathers from whom the authority of the true Scriptures has been transmitted to us, by a most certain and well-ascertained succession. For though there is some truth in these apocryphal writings, yet they contain so many false statements, that they have no canonical authority.

We cannot deny that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, left some divine writings, for this is asserted by the Apostle Jude in his canonical epistle. But it is not without reason that these writings have no place in that canon of Scripture which was preserved in the temple of the Hebrew people by the diligence of successive priests; for their antiquity brought them under suspicion, and it was impossible to ascertain whether these were his genuine writings, and they were not brought forward as genuine by the persons who were found to have carefully preserved the canonical books by a successive transmission. So that the writings which are produced under his name, and which contain these fables about the giants, saying that their fathers were not men; are properly judged by prudent men to be not genuine; just as many writings are produced by heretics under the names both of other prophets, and more recently, under the names of the apostles, all of which, after careful examination, have been set apart from canonical authority under the title of "apocrypha."

18.38 (when arguing that Hebrew prophets predate Egyptian wisemen and Greek philosophers)

If I may recall far more ancient times [i.e., pre-Abrahamic], our patriarch Noah was certainly even before that great deluge, and I might not undeservedly call him a prophet... What of Enoch, the seventh from Adam? Does not the canonical epistle of the Apostle Jude declare that he prophesied? But the writings of these men could not be held as authoritative either among the Jews or us, on account of their too great antiquity, which made it seem needful to regard them with suspicion, lest false things should be set forth instead of true. For some writings which are said be theirs are quoted by those who, according to their own humor, loosely believe what they please. But the purity of the canon has not admitted these writings, not because the authority of these men who pleased God is rejected, but because they are not believed to be theirs.

Nor ought it to appear strange if writings for which so great antiquity is claimed are held in suspicion, seeing that in the very history of the kings of Judah and Israel containing their acts, which we believe to belong to the canonical Scripture, very many things are mentioned which are not explained there, but are said to be found in other books which the prophets wrote, the very names of these prophets being sometimes given, and yet they are not found in the canon which the people of God received. Now I confess the reason of this is hidden from me; only I think that even those men, to whom certainly the Holy Spirit revealed those things which ought to be held as of religious authority, might write some things as men by historical diligence, and others as prophets by divine inspiration; and these things were so distinct, that it was judged that the former should be ascribed to themselves, but the latter to God speaking through them: and so the one pertained to the abundance of knowledge, the other to the authority of religion. In that authority the canon is guarded. So that, if any writings outside of it are now brought forward under the name of the ancient prophets, they cannot serve even as an aid to knowledge, because it is uncertain whether they are genuine; and on this account they are not trusted, especially those of them in which some things are found that are even contrary to the truth of the canonical books, so that it is quite apparent they do not belong to them.

© 2002 Annette Yoshiko Reed. All Rights Reserved.

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